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Quiz team gets them right

Safety Harbor Middle takes home top honors in the Economics Expo Quiz Bowl.

By DONNA WINCHESTER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003

PINELLAS PARK -- Safety Harbor Middle School came alive in the second round of competition at the Economics Expo Quiz Bowl Tuesday, turning the tables on semifinals rival Riviera Middle School.

The seven-member team finished 67 points ahead of second-place Southside Fundamental School and shut out Riviera, last year's champions, by 85 points in the competition that tests students' knowledge of economics, geography and mathematics.

About 300 cheering parents, teachers and classmates assembled at Pinellas Park High School to watch this year's finals. All six teams turned in impressive performances, said secondary social studies supervisor Betty Douglas.

"They're getting better every year," she said. "Economics is not a main focus in middle school. I'm always amazed at how much these students learn."

Quiz Bowl was created 16 years ago to give teachers a chance to expand on the economics lessons they teach in their classrooms, but all the preparation has to be done on the teachers' and students' own time.

"It's a great example of the basic economics problem of scarcity," Douglas said. "What do you give up in order to do this?"

The Safety Harbor team, which included John Bavlsik, Manoj Kannusamy, Savannah Madley, Nisarg Mehta, Jared Moody, Tobias Schmid and Mickey Shea, began practicing in October. The students met after school for more than an hour three days a week and added one-hour morning sessions after winter break. Their strength came as much from teamwork as preparation, said coach Stephanie Bessette.

"There was no argument over who did what," she said. "They knew who should have the calculator. If it was a spelling question, they knew who would spell. That was all settled before they ever sat down at the table."

The Riviera team was disappointed with its third-place finish after scoring more than 300 points in the semifinals. Coach Bill Dellert said the students worked hard to prepare for this year's contest, studying tests from previous contests and working with a timer to get used to answering questions on deadline.

"These kids could have told you every president from 1800 on," he said. "I gave them maps from everywhere in the world. They knew the countries, the capitals, the major cities, the rivers and the lakes. We went over all kinds of things."

A couple of the team members felt pressure to repeat last year's winning performance.

"Last year, nobody knew about us," said Sarah Beck, 13. "This year we were the returning champions, so everybody wanted to beat us."

But Zahida Cesko, 14, said the chance to compete was what mattered most to her.

"I thought it was a blast," she said. "The competition is tough and the stress can drive you insane, but it's still a lot of fun."

Safety Harbor, Southside and Riviera received plaques engraved with team members' names, and their coaches received cash awards. Students and coaches will be honored at a dessert reception March 4 at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

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